February 20, 2012

ODIs: a blue-print for the future

A list of ideas and suggestions to improve ODIs and their structure

Top bowlers like Dale Steyn should be allowed to bowl 12 overs each © AFP

In response to one of my recent articles there were quite a few comments on the ODI game and steps to be taken to improve and strengthen the same. This article is a summary encompassing the readers' suggestions and adding my own.

The article is in two parts. The first one deals with ways of strengthening the ODI matches through match-level changes. The second part concentrates on strengthening the game format.

Suggestions on ODI match-level changes

1. Two bowlers being allowed to bowl 12 overs each. This will tilt the scales a little bit in favour of the bowlers. Teams will be tempted to play four top bowlers since only six overs need to be bowled by the fifth bowler. It should be remembered that the 20% is not sacrosanct. Even now the bowlers might bowl above 20% in a few situations: rain affected matches and innings which do not go the full extent of 50 overs. It would be great to see Dale Steyn and Vernon Philander get the four extra overs since the batsmen have to plan for this eventuality.

This is needed because of recent rule changes like free-hits, marginal wides, one bouncer per over, Power Plays etc which are all in favour of the batsmen. There is a need to level the playing field a bit. Let me add that this suggestion has not been caused by the fact that batsmen can play a higher share of team balls. It is true only in single innings. However, over the entire career, there is no great difference in the % of balls bowed/faced by batsmen/bowlers. The following tables are interesting.

Batsman        TeamBalls BatBalls % faced

Marsh G.R 32370 7721 23.85 Greenidge C.G 34875 7908 22.68 Haynes 63324 13707 21.65 ... Tendulkar 120096 21073 17.55 Ponting 98998 17010 17.18

Bowler         TeamBalls BowBalls % bowled

Chatfield 30221 6065 20.07 Md. Rafique 32056 6414 20.01 Muralitharan 94327 18811 19.94 Abdur Razzak(Bng) 33379 67237 19.90 Wasim Akram 93398 18186 19.47

Thus it can be seen that while theoretically a batsman can face 50% of the team balls, in practice, this works to a much lower number. It is obvious but the main reason is that the batsman have but a single life. The bowler could go for 30 in 2 overs but could go on to complete his spell. Hence the two % share values are closer. If the 12-over change is implemented we will have top bowlers at near 24%, wonderfully at par with the batsmen.

2. Re-define leg side wide. Today a lovely off-break from Graeme Swann pitched on the middle stump has every chance of being called a wide. Similarly a beautiful off-cutter bowled on the leg stump would very be called a wide. The leg side wide definition should be changed. The law could be changed to, say, "if a ball is pitched outside leg stump and is not likely to hit the stumps should be called a wide". This would allow a leg-spinner to pitch on the roughs outside the leg stump and not be called a wide. The current definition seems to take into account where the ball ends after going past the bat and not where the ball pitches.

3. Remove No ball-free hit anomaly. The free hit itself is not liked by many. However it has been proved in these columns that this has resulted in a decrease in the number of no balls. Hence it has come here to stay. In that case why should a no ball called because the ball was bowled above waist-high or it was a beamer be not called a free hit. In real cricketing sense these deliveries are far more dangerous and likely to cause bodily harm than a no ball which was delivered with the boot couple of inches beyond the crease.

4. Allow two bouncers per over. This will make all the overs more challenging and give the fielding team a few more options. The batsmen have to improvise to handle the two short deliveries. Since there going to be 20 Power Play overs per innings and there is a limit of 2/3 fielders outside the ring, the batsmen should find methods to convert short-pitches balls into scoring opportunities. There is an alternate suggestion to limit this change to only the PP overs. It is suggested that this whole question should be examined.

5. Give higher weight for away results. The need to resolve the groups in a better manner than net run rate has opened up this option. Surely India's win over South Africa away should count more than their win in India. And vice versa. The additional weight could be as low as 10% or as high as 25.0%/33.3% (4/3 points for a win and 1 bonus point for an away win. This will become very relevant in the WCL, described later. The precedent is the rule in many Football leagues where away goals count double.

6. Split of innings into 2 parts: There is a lot of support for the ODI format with innings split into 2 parts. Whether the split is 25+25 or 30+20, whether we could use two new balls from either end as is currently being done or a new ball for each of the innings, how to split the Power Plays etc., we will leave to the organizers. The biggest benefit will be the reduced impact of Toss and possibly improved handling of rain-affected matches.

7. Tie resolution in leagues: The current method of tie-resolution using NRRs has a number of shortcomings, especially in D/L matches. Also the emphasis is on quicker scoring which is not necessarily the correct method for resolving ties. A better method would be to incorporate into the calculations an element of the win quantum. How comfortable or difficult were the wins. Milind Pandit has suggested a simple, but excellent, "Ball Difference" method which can be used for this purpose. The link for the suggested calculations is given below.

click here

8. D/L method: It is recommended that the target scores in both D/L and VJD method be publicised in each Rain situation. The D/L target can be continued to be used. However this will enable cricket followers to get an idea of the target scores by an alternate method. If we take the MCG and SCG matches there were some feelings of discomfort on the target scores. It would have been nice to have a VJD target for both.

Given below are some minor suggestions which are of the nice-to-have variety. These are all not major changes but are, one could call, the readers' wish-list and could be treated as such.

- Allow the captains to decide on their team composition after the toss. This could be as easy as allowing them to carry two separate team sheets to the toss.
- Make Batting Power play optional. If a batting team does not want it, why insist on that.
- Make the overs 15-34 Power Play overs and let the captains decide how they would like to optimise the 1-15 and 35-50 overs.
- Allow an additional fielder in the Power Play overs, but could be in the third close catching position.
- Strengthen and implement the Super-Sub option again.
- What is the significance of the back-foot no balls. What does it matter if a bowler delivers from wide of the crease. He may get an angle but is much more likely to be penalized for wides, if he misses even slightly.
- Have no bowler limit at all. While there may be a temptation to play more batsmen, it is very difficult to see more than 15 overs being delivered by one bowler within 200 minutes. He would become very ineffective later on.
- Resort to tie-resolving like olden days, based on wickets lost, to produce more results, especially in WCL.

Given below are three suggestions which have validity across all formats of Cricket, especially Tests.

1. Make DRS compulsory. Too much has been written on DRS, to no avail. I concede all points on the drawbacks of DRS. I accept the validity of some of BCCI objections. I appreciate Simon Taufel's sensible observations against DRS. However, I am with Michael Clarke whole-heartedly. Either all should play with DRS or no one should. And it is the Indian team which is sitting pretty. They play ALL matches without DRS. Australia play with DRS in one series and then have to do without DRS in the next one and then go back to DRS. Same with other countries. Absolutely ridiculous. ICC should say "DRS is mandatory w.e.f 1 April 2012.". DRS would evolve, get fine-tuned and in two years' time we may have a 99% effective system.

2. Switch Hit conundrum. Allow the Switch Hit since it is a high risk shot and not all can play the same effectively. In that case, however, remove all protection for the batsman. In other words, no leg side wides, wides only past the marker on either side and no lbw protection for pitching outside leg stump. Allow different types of no balls though.

3. Fielder hitting stumps. If a fielder's throw hits the stumps, declare a dead ball. Let the fielding side not get penalized for a great fielding effort.

The problems with the ODI structure is multi-fold, as outlined below.

1. Too many matches. During the past three years, 144, 142 and 149 matches have been played.
2. Too many inconsequential matches. Especially in the bi-lateral series.
3. Very unwieldy bi-lateral series. 5 itself is too many and 7 is totally way-out. 4. There is wide disparity in the number of matches played even between top teams.
5. The so called cash-cow series keep getting repeated.
6. In the non-World Cup years, there is no great interest. Champions' Trophy is a poor cousin to World Cup and there are very few Triangular/Quadrangular tournaments.

Hence the following schedule is suggested. This is a major re-vamp because of the creation of a completely new and exciting concept called World Cricket league, explained in great detail later. But this will revolutionize the game completely.

First, it is recommended that all bi-lateral series be standardized to 3 ODIs and 3 T20s. This would mean a lapsed time of only 2 weeks (1/4/7/10/12/14) and the tour itself will take no more than 3 weeks. Each of these series is almost certain to have a result.

There are no major suggestions on the World Cup. The last World Cup was very well structured and conducted. That could be the blue-print. Alternately, 10 teams and all-play-all format (1992 format) can be used. Even in this case, all efforts should be made to fill, say, the last 3 places through selection tournaments so that the associate teams have a good chance.

It should be seen that the bi-lateral series cannot be used for WCL because of the very strong home/away advantage which teams have. Also we will continue to be plagued by the meaningless matches syndrome.

It should be seen that in the non-WCL years, the bi-lateral series, in the suggested leaner and better format, will continue to be played. Even in the WCL years, the eliminated teams and associate nations can stage their own bi-lateral series.

Given below is a suggested schedule for the next 10 years and fits the existing commitments.

2012: T20 World Cup.               Bi-lateral ODI series. Test series.
2013: Champions' Trophy.           Bi-lateral ODI series. Test series.
2014: World Cricket League.                               Test series.
2015: ODI World Cup.               Bi-lateral ODI series. Test series.
2016: World Cricket League.                               Test series.
2017: Test Championship.           Bi-lateral ODI series.
2018: World Cricket League.                               Test series.
2019: ODI World Cup.               Bi-lateral ODI series. Test series.
2020: World Cricket League.                               Test series.
2021: Test Championship.           Bi-lateral ODI series.

The inaugural WCL has been suggested for 2014 so that there is enough time to plan everything. The next T20 WC could be fitted in suitably, probably during 2014, 2017 and 2020. It is our belief that the Champions' Trophy will die a natural death once the WCL gets going.

Now for complete details on the WCL.


The WCL is a biennial year-long league-cum-knockout ODI tournament. This has been based on the most successful league-cum-knockout tournament in the world, the European Champions' League and NBA. The basic idea was provided by a regular reader, Raghav Behani and Vikram and Vishal added useful inputs. I have fine-tuned the ideas and structured the whole thing into a 10-year frame.

WCL is conducted in four stages. Scheduling and logistics would be a major problem to be solved but I am confident that ICC can do it, with cooperation from the constituent Boards can do it successfully.

1. WCL Preliminary League

This is a geographical league, to the extent possible. 12 teams participate in the WCL-PL. In the first year let us say there are the 10 Test-playing nations and two other Associate countries, say Ireland and Afghanistan. These 12 teams are split into four groups of three teams each. Two teams from each group will qualify for the next round. The four third placed teams will join other teams in a Qualifying league for the next competition. The suggested group configurations are given below. This will vary year on year and some juggling would have to be done.

Group 1: India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh.
Group 2: South Africa, West Indies, Zimbabwe.
Group 3: Pakistan, England, Afghanistan.
Group 4: Australia, New Zealand, Ireland.

Each team will play the other teams three times, once at home, once away and once in the third country (neutral). So each team plays 6 matches, each country conducts 6 matches and there would be 9 matches in each group, making 36 matches in all.

This are no problems in groups 1 and 2, the teams are in close proximity to each other. Group 3 has some potential problems. Pakistan and Afghanistan might not be ready to host matches. England cannot hold matches because of winter. The best solution is to hold these matches in UAE. There are three centres and each can hold 3 matches. In group 4, Ireland can travel down under and play all their matches in the two countries.

An overall target can be set that these group matches should finish by April.

2. WCL Qualification League

This is a secondary league. The teams comprise of the 4 eliminated teams from the WCL-PL and four other Associate teams, selected through earlier events. This will be similar to the WCL-ML in that there will be two groups and the top two in each group will qualify for the following years' main competition. The format will be similar to WCL-ML and there would be a total of 24 matches played. There will be a lot of interest in this league since the rewards are great.

3. WCL Main League

This is the main league and non-geographical. There are two groups with 4 teams each. The method of allocation would be two first-placed and two second-placed teams in each group and the teams would be separated from their WCL-PL groupings.

Each team will play the other three teams, home and away. So each team plays 6 matches and there would be 12 matches in each group, making 24 matches in all. An alternative would be to locate the groups in one location, making travel easier.

Two teams from each group will qualify for the next round.

An overall target can be set that these Main league matches should finish by July.

4. WCL Semi-Final League/Play-off

This can be either a play-off format or league format. The advantage with a league format is that each team plays all the other teams and there would be clearly identified first, second, third and fourth places.

Each team will play the other three teams, once, possibly in a neutral location. So each team plays 3 matches and there would be 6 matches in all. All the matches could be played in one or two locations.

Alternately the two semi-finals could be played as best-of-three knock-out matches with the two losing teams playing a 3-team knock-out to determine third and fourth places.

An overall target can be set that these semi final matches should finish by September.

5. WCL Final

The two teams that qualify are placed based on their semi-final league/playoff performances.

These two teams play a 5-match play-off series to determine the WCL winner. There are two options. In either case. the higher placed team will host three matches and the lower placed team will host two matches.

The teams play 2 matches in the lower placed team's country and then move on to the higher placed team's country, to play 3 more matches.

Alternately, the teams play 2 matches in the higher placed team's country and then move on to the lower placed team's country, to play 2 more matches. If the tie is still unresolved, the teams play the the decider in the higher-placed team location. This will depend on the proximity of the teams also.

An overall target can be set that these Final matches should take place during November.

This means there will be a total of 95 matches including the 24 in the Elimination league. This will be perfectly manageable. There will almost be no dead matches. Every match will have relevance. The two teams in the Final would have played 20 matches each, every one of these 20 meaningful ones. Other teams lesser, but no less relevant. Again the load can be managed very well.

A summary of the WCL scheduling

I have worked out that the WCL-PL will take between 45-50 days, the WCL-ML will take between 45-50 days, the WCL-SFL will take between 15-20 days and the WCL-Finals will take between 15-20 days. This and some slack for travel etc, will mean a total lapsed time of 6 months for the WCL. This leaves us 6 months to concentrate on Test cricket. There would be enough time for teams to play 4 or 5 standardized 3-Test series. This can be managed quite comfortably since there would be no ODI series to follow or precede.

Prize Money: A suggested distribution. I know the public have no say in this. However this should just round off the blue-print document.

Winner:          30%.
Runner-up:       15%.
3rd placed team: 10%.
4th placed team: 7.5%.
4 Main league qualifiers: 5% each (20%).
4 eliminated teams from preliminary leagues: 2.5% each (10%).

This will still leave enough money, 7.5%, to be allotted for associate teams.

Anantha Narayanan has written for ESPNcricinfo and CastrolCricket and worked with a number of companies on their cricket performance ratings-related systems